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The Why of Citizen Activism

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In an earlier post, I wrote about the rise of the citizen entrepreneurs. Thought I’ll share why we do what we do. I am including myself in this club of active citizens because I still volunteer in some activities.


First of course, is the immediate sense of empowerment — that we get when we start doing something. Whether or not there are results to show. Sometimes there is a feeling of being better than the rest, because hey, at least we are not just complaining, we are trying to make a difference. In an ideal case, one ought to be humble and acknowledge that action alone is no basis  for feeling proud or feel a sense of achievement. But then it drives us, helps to continue against terrible odds and discouragement; we acquire a stubbornness that ends up irritating the hell out of our families for getting into a “thankless” role.

Learning and skill development

Ah there is so much to learn. no books can equal the learning that comes from running around and camping out at local government offices to drive a voter registration campaign. You realise why things are broken, and how they can improve. You develop skills that range from marketing, to fundraising to project planning. And you also get a chance to become a better person, acquiring traits like patience, perseverance, kindness and acceptance of diversity

Need for problem solving

We understand there is a need for more people to be involved. So we do what we can with our limitations, and want more people to get involved. On a good year, with not much of work or family pressure, one can take up saving a lake. When personal life takes over, the least we try to do is be a member in our RWA or help push some mails around in a campaign.

Sustainable change

Much of the work we do are those that help drive systemic change – it is not charity. We rarely contribute money; even if we do, that is only one component – the more important aspect is our mindshare and time commitment.. When you push waste segregation in your apartment, it is not something that affects just one person – it involves creating processes that make it last, it become an institutional change.

Build resume

Many young volunteers and those working in changemaker organisations, get great exposure into the system — how it is broken, and how change happens at the grassroots. This adds to their resume when they apply for their higher studies or fellowships, especially abroad. Nowadays there are many college students and even school students who are keen to get such experiences.  

Self defence

This is the most important reason that takes time to internalise — we don’t have a choice. Most of us cannot run away to another city, another country, another life. This is still one world, and we want one where our children can live and thrive. If we don’t act for our children, who will? So we pick our battles and do our bit.

It’s fun

Finally, getting into civic and community activities helps find great friends – many tend to be like minded, united not just by the civic cause. I was part of the garbage gang in my neighbourhood that started local waste segregation and composting activities many years ago, and we stay friends long after many of us have moved on to other battles. We are all idiosyncratic, crazy ‘econuts’, committed to our dreams of a better city, a better world.